Setting the stage for Sex Week at Yale, last Friday’s scene section featured an article that claimed Yalies are too busy for relationships (“My so-called sex life,” 2/10). It seems between class, sports, work and extracurricular activities, our overachieving undergraduates have no time for the luxury of human pair-bonding. I suspect St. Valentine would be deeply troubled by this romance deficit. So, in hopes of shaking some trees or jumping some motors, I offer what absolutely no one has asked for: my take on our troubles with love.
Let’s start simple. Sex is vital to human existence. Pair-bonding and the strangely taboo activities that stem from it are all that really matter to our species. Everyone alive today is blessed with a stellar pedigree — we are the progeny of Those Who Got It On, a staggering lineage of sexually-active survivors that stretches unbroken to the dawn of man. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but those hirsute hunks didn’t scratch out a living in dank caves or battle saber-toothed tigers so you could favor IM squash over getting laid. Smarten up, kids.
But it’s not that straightforward. In the survey that accompanied Friday’s article, most students confessed to getting jiggy within the past seven days. It’s not sex Yalies are passing on, it’s dating.
Here we differ from our distant ancestor, who shivered beneath the stars and swung a spiked club. For him, courtship and coitus were fairly clear-cut — one begat the other, and mate choice had real meaning.
We hook up casually, but scrutinize potential boyfriends with a jeweler’s eye. We sample fertile girlfriends yet produce no babies. Our courtship ritual is detached from its ultimate goal. If students readily engage in sex but postpone serious efforts at mate choice, then the cart has come before the biological horse.
Why are we such picky daters? I blame the pervasive and resilient fiction that one ideal mate exists for each and every person. Whereas choosing a partner capable of basic sexual function is not especially challenging (unless it’s last call at Toad’s), choosing a boyfriend or girlfriend has become far more difficult. A daunting array of emotional, intellectual and chemical factors must mesh before we anoint our mate. And for that final walk down the aisle, gosh, everything better be thrice-checked and mission-perfect. Someone call NASA.
Jerry Seinfeld famously parodied skittish lovers who scuttle relationships over trifles. Drunk on options, they skip between dates, chasing some elusive vision of perfection. And today, who can blame them? A guy can log onto the Internet, and within five clicks be chatting with singles overseas. Girls know jostling hordes wait to beg their digits at any bar. Why stick around when there’s a better date just over that hill? Why settle when somewhere, your one true love awaits?
I’ll tell you why. The lock-and-key notion that one single star-fated love-match exists for every human couldn’t possibly be true. If we were that fussy about mating, procreation would be a combinatorial nightmare; we’d never have made it this far. We could each be happy with many different people, only a small subset of whom we’ll ever encounter.
But the Internet is changing that. We are no longer restricted to screening dates in our school, our town, even our country. Just imagine how many ideal mates lurk among the six billion souls trudging this planet – and some aren’t even online yet. Literally any day, your perfect match could log on, post a pixellated siren-song and dash your life to pieces. It’s enough to give even the most committed lover pause.
For an interesting twist on this, consider ABC’s “The Bachelor.” On this program, 25 nubile ladies vie for the affections of one well-heeled dreamboat. This fellow engages in a massively-parallel flurry of zero-sum romance, paring down his gaggle of hopefuls until one remains. Whatever drama awaits in the elimination, one thing is for certain: the winner is always there — she has been standing in that crowd since day one. The game is a closed system, and no rum-fuelled hookups can upset the ritual. Juxtaposed with the frenzied horizon-gazing of real-world dating, this arrangement is strangely calming. If only life were so phony.
Back to reality. What’s a Yalie to do? Internet dating is for dorks, “The Bachelor” is profligate escapism, and you’re not too selective — you’re just busy, right?
Fine. But if you ever finish that problem set and decide to hunt for mates, remember: Countless people could make you happy, if you’d just commit to one. There’s no such thing as the perfect match.
And if the thought of settling terrifies you, it really needn’t. Biology saves the day. Love is a complex emotional and neurochemical cocktail, a feeling that says, “logic and statistics be damned, I have found my one ideal match.” And true or not, it’s the closest thing to transcending mundane reality in the entire human experience. It’s even better than a cappella.
So stop warming the bench, Yale. Close the books tonight. Make a caveman proud.
Michael Seringhaus is a fifth-year graduate student in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.